Nissan Unveils Concept Version of its All-Electric Commercial Van

By · January 09, 2012

Nissan e-NV200 Concept

Nissan today unveiled the all-electric e-NV200 Concept van at the 2012 North American Auto Show in Detroit. According to the company, the NV200 “previews a near-future production version of a full electric vehicle designed to provide businesses or families with flexible, roomy interior space, while achieving a dramatic CO2 footprint reduction.” The vehicle is expected to go on sale in 2014, although Nissan has not decided which global markets will offer the e-NV200.

Nissan’s goal is to offer four pure electric cars in its portfolio in the next few years. An EV version of the NV200—or something like it—is the company’s commercial application in the set of four. I spoke on the phone with Mark Perry, Nissan EV guy in North America—from the floor of the Detroit show shortly after the introduction. He told me, “If we enter a market, we want to demonstrate that we are the leader for electric vehicles. That means offering more segments and more vehicle selection.”

Expanding Offerings, Even If Each Model Is Not Thrilling

In my conversations with Mark in the past few months, he has repeatedly emphasized that Nissan wants its EVs to be “mass market” vehicles. Yet, the five-seat e-NV200—as almost exclusively a commercial vehicle designed for deliveries or for use as a taxi—is unlikely to come anywhere close to the LEAF’s production numbers. (Mark told me that LEAF sales in the US in 2012 will double compared to the nearly 10,000 sales in 2011.) The e-NV200 will not go on sale until about 2014—about the same time that Nissan introduces its Infiniti all-electric sedan. Which will come first? That’s undetermined. “We haven’t locked down the cadence,” said Mark.

Nissan e-NV200 Concept

Considering its smaller sales potential compared to the LEAF, perhaps it’s not surprising that the e-NV200 will be quite derivative from the gas-powered version. In some ways, the e-NV200 is Nissan’s answer to the Ford Transit Connect Electric—a limited production vehicle based on a gas-version and intended as a commercial delivery van or taxi. However, Mark Perry was quick to make distinctions between the two, explaining that from the beginning, designers of the NV200 platform were thinking about where batteries and other EV components would go. Also, Mark hinted that the e-NV200 would have a considerably lower price point than the Transit Connect Electric, which starts around $60,000. In addition, Ford outsources the conversion of the Transit Connect Electric, while Nissan will handle all production tasks in-house. Still, the e-NV200 doesn’t fully pass the sniff test as a ground-up electric vehicle the way the LEAF is.

In terms of driving range, Hideto Murakami, Nissan corporate vice president, said the NV200 would be similar to the Nissan LEAF—commonly 80 to 100 miles. Mark confirmed the size of the e-NV200’s battery pack at 24-kilowatt hours, just like the LEAF, although packaging could affect the specs. He also acknowledged that the aerodynamics of the e-NV200—a C-platform vehicle like the LEAF—would not be as good, and that the final gross vehicle weight has not been confirmed. Add it up, and the e-NV200 likely will fall short of the LEAF’s range.

The lithium-ion battery pack will be composed of 48 compact modules and an 80-kW AC synchronous motor that generates 207 lb-ft (280 N-m/rpm) of torque. The e-NV200 will come with a 6.6 kW on-board charger and an option for DC Fast Charge port.

No Promises About Coming to US

Mark said that Nissan has not fully committed to which global markets would receive the e-NV200—although the gas-powered version of the NV200 is built at Nissan’s Mississippi plant, not too far from where US LEAF and EV battery production will take place in Tennessee.

Nissan e-NV200 Concept

The last time I saw Mark was at the Tokyo Motor Show, where Nissan displayed three concept vehicles, described as equal candidates for Nissan’s fourth and final electric vehicle (at least for the next product cycle or two). One of the options, a small urban utility car called the "Townpod," is not entirely dissimilar from the e-NV200—although with a personal vehicle flavor compared to the NV200's commercial upright stance. “Is there overlap? The answer is yes,” said Mark. This shifts the logic away from Nissan choosing the utility car as EV number four, and perhaps toward an electric sports car, like the 150-mile range ESflow. (Now, that's an EV that can get your motor running.) “These are the things we wrestle with all the time,” said Mark. A final decision has not been made.

Should we be happy about a Nissan small electric commercial van? Of course. Greater choice among electric vehicles is always good. But clearly, the e-NV200 will never be characterized as a game-changer. It’s simply one more vehicle in the overall Nissan-Infiniti line-up—one that thankfully will be offered without a gas engine or tailpipe. According to Mark, the company will have 20 launches of new products (with and without gas) in the next 24 months, and the e-NV200 could be viewed as a bullet point on that list.

Trying to figure out what might be in store beyond the four-EV portfolio, I asked Mark if any of those 20 launches will be a plug-in hybrid. He paused for a couple of seconds—as if to ponder how much he’s willing to disclose. He then said, “Stay tuned.”

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